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August, 2013 Issue

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Harvard Sailing Team

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There are quite a few sketch teams floating around out there, but not many who have been as successful or as are experienced as Harvard sailing team and there are even fewer who focus almost exclusively on the college market.

"The perfect sketch comedy troupe for a college audience! Hilarious, easy to work with, and everyone loved the show!" -John O'Donnell, Advisor University of Richmond Activities Board

With credits like Montreal's "Just For Laughs" Festival, the National College Comedy Festival, weekly shows at People's Improv Theater in NYC, Winners of a New York Nightlife Award for "Outstanding Comedy Group," Friar's Club $10K Film Festival Sketch Competition and nominated for MTV Networks' Comedy Awards for "Best Original viral video." With almost 45,000 YouTube subscribers and a few million views, this act has its bona fides in place.

Also a notable difference from your typical four-person touring sketch troupe setup is that HST has nine players, packing a whole lot more talent into just one package of a high energy, fast paced comedy show.

We talk with Clayton Early, Chris Smith and Jen Curren to find out more about the acts history and style of performance.

The first obvious question is "Where did the name come?" "It came from long exhaustive research," Chris says, "and data gathering over three years and thousands of options. Different letters, languages... no but seriously we picked it because we though we would look cute in nice looking sweaters." Well kashmir does look good on just about anyone.

The troupe has been performing together for ten years, with its origins forming around the campus of NYU. "All of us except for Billy Scafuri went to college together at New York University," Clayton says. "We were training at a place called the Atlantic Theater Company through NYU's Tish School of the Arts. We spent about three years taking classes together, however it was drama training surprisingly," he finishes, with a caucophenous level of background noise made by children in the background at the very theater training center he just mentioned. "Billy grew up with Chris on Long Island and he would come to our shows. He was interning at SNL at the time and so after we graduated we decided to put on a comedy show. I think it was something that Chris and Billy initially imagined. They wrote a bunch of sketches and got us all together and we did one show in the middle of Long Island filled mostly with the Safuris and Smiths, so it was a friendly crowd. Of course everyone loved it and told us we should keep doing it."

Nine years went by and aside from the numerous awards, the team has amassed an impressive collection of shows in their wake, all of them not at comedy festivals taking place in the campus market.

The show isn't strictly scripted sketch comedy, the troupe also utilizes a fair bit of improv, keeping each show fresh and making them not only unique to each audience, but exciting for the performers as well. "There is a good mix of both forms," Jen says. "When we are performing a live show we have a pretty clear cut idea of the points we want to hit, a basic blueprint of what we are trying to build, but there is always room for improv. We are all really good friends, so we like to leave some room to make each other laugh on stage and whatever funny, weird thing that might come up in the moment."

Initially after the show in Long Island, the group realized they had something that
was gelling quite well and soon after were able to land a slot where they were really able to work on their chops. "We put together a half hour show that we split with another group at the PIT (People's Improv Theater)," Chris says. "We did that maybe once a month and after a few of those shows rolled into our own hour long weekly show. We went back and forth between the PIT and the UCB-NY (Upright Citizens Brigade) in the first couple of years, doing weekly performances."

HST has quite a collection of videos on /www.youtube.com/user/HSTsketchcomedy), some of which have gone viral, the most notable of which is "Boys Will Be Girls," which at current count is over 5 million views. "When we make videos," she says "we also start with a relatively clear cut script but save some time to do improv in the videos as well. It definitely provides a sort of energy and unexpected spice to what we do, which I think translates well to the viewing audience. It's almost like if we don't know exactly what to expect, neither do they and it adds an element of surprise to the comedy. It's a good mix, but we are technically a sketch group not an improv troupe."

The weekly station at the PIT lasted for about two years and allowed HST to really hone in on their craft and more importantly, their comfort level and interactions with each other. Imagine the level of difficulty of getting the traditional four-person format to click well and then slightly more than double it for HST's nine members to get it right. "For the first year, it was a little bit more sporadic shows whenever we could get them," Chris adds, "but by the time we were into the second year we had hit a groove and were performing all the time."

There was a lot of growth in that time, as Clayton explains. "Those first shows were a lot of fun, because they were typically small and low pressure so we got to experiment and grow, but after several months of doing that, the improv element, the friendship and the writing strengthened and we were ready to start taking on bigger and more frequent shows."

In the last two years almost all of HST's live performances have been in the campus market. "In the last couple of years we have been focusing on the big campus shows and traveling," Jen says, "and doing a lot more videos. Almost all of our touring work is in the campus market."

HST has truly found a home in the campus market. Not only is the format a natural fit for the audience, the team just really likes it. "When we were doing shows in New York, it was a really intellectual, 20's and 30-somethings crowd that we got used to. We actually had an experience after the first couple of years where we went to do some shows in Charleston, South Carolina and it was an entirely different experience. The crowd was people that were a little bit older, maybe out on a Friday night for a date with their husband or wife and they laughed at different jokes and reacted in a new way to different parts of the show. That was the first time the realization hit us that certain jokes work in an urban environment, some work better in a suburban environment and the age range of the audience made a big impact as well."

Once they began performing in the campus market they realized the same line of logic applied. "Colleges follow along that line, we never know what to expect. some audiences are keyed in to every little thing we say, some only laugh at the big pivotal joke moments. It all varies and we have found that college crowds are generally a lot more fun and fun-loving than your sort of academic, jaded New York city audience. They love it when we sing and dance and they get super energized about the fun physical stuff we do, so it's always a much more fun, bigger than life and lively show when we are on a campus."

Audience participation is always a plus in the campus market and it's not lacking in HST's show. "Funny you should ask," Clayton says, "We do actually have a sketch that we call 'audience participation' that we perform at the college shows because they are so amped to be there. It is a charged up crowd, they are excited to be there, and often they are familiar with us because they are a demographic that is so plugged into the viral video scene. When they are already familiar with our work it's not only veery gratifying to us, but it just makes them all the more excited to be there.

"So in the 'audience participation' sketch, we require them to say certain words when we say certain words throughout the sketch and it always goes really well and they seem to really enjoy it. I would also say that even sometimes outside of that specific sketch, you can tell just being on the stage when the lights come up and we are in a particular formation or say one or two lines of a sketch they are familiar with, they are instantly murmuring through the crowd and there is this palpable exactment they generate from seeing something live that they are familiar with from seeing online. They are pulling their phones out and taking pictures and texting their friends and that is always fun to see that level of involvement and excitement for this thing that we have all created together."

Let Harvard Sailing Team come create that level of fun and excitement on your campus. contact Doug Edley at the gersh agency at (310) 205-5885 or DEdley@ gershLA.com.